Monthly Archives: December 2011

Gone in threes: 2011

They say celebrities and prominent people go in threes. Here again is proof.

Gone in 2011 …

Anything for a laugh: Alan Sues (“Laugh-In”), Charlie Callas (rubber-faced comic), Kenneth Mars (“The Producers”).

Badasses: Christopher Hitchens (writer), Eleanor Mondale (the vice president’s wild-child daughter), Gil Scott-Heron (poet and singer).

Big men: James Arness (“Gunsmoke”), Clarence Clemons (E Street Band), Bubba Smith (the NFL, then “Police Academy”).

Bluesmen: David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin.

Career changers: Greg Goossen (major-league catcher turned Gene Hackman’s film double), Sylvia Robinson (R&B singer turned hip-hop producer), Andrea True (porn actress turned disco singer).

Character actors: Wyatt Knight (“Porky’s”), Sid Melton (“Green Acres”), Leonard Stone (“Willy Wonka”). They seemingly did go as a trio, passing within eight days of each other in October and November.

Comics legends: Bil Keane (The Family Circus), Jerry Robinson (the Joker), Joe Simon (Captain America).

Counterculture: Suze Rotolo (Bob Dylan’s muse in the early ’60s), Owsley Stanley (LSD chemist and ’60s scenester), Poly Styrene (punk musician).

Directors: Ken Russell (“Tommy”), Sidney Lumet (“Network”), Peter Yates (“Bullitt”).

Dramatic interludes: Fred Steiner (“Perry Mason” and “Star Trek”), John Barry (12 James Bond films), Pete Rugolo (“The Fugitive”).

Eccentrics: Barry Bremen (legendary ’70s and ’80s sports imposter), Terry Gale (Las Vegas entertainer who insisted on no cover charge at his last appearance — his funeral in his hometown of Milwaukee), Norma “Duffy” Lyon (Iowa butter sculptor).

Hasta la bye bye! Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong Il.

Inventive: Jeno Paulucci (Jeno’s pizza rolls), Milton Levine (Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm), Arch West (Doritos, with which he was buried).

Larger than life: Steve Jobs, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Elizabeth Taylor.

Monkee business: Bert Schneider (he co-produced the TV show), Don Kirshner (he produced the early music), Rob Grill (lead singer of the Grass Roots, who toured with the Monkees).

Speaking of Monkee business, we saw Davy, Micky and Peter in Milwaukee in July. It was a good show that turned out to be the last one on their 45th anniversary tour. It was to have ended in Milwaukee anyway — even the official tour T-shirts said so — but the tour managers reportedly added more dates without checking first with the fellas. Those extra dates? Canceled. Listen to the band! Not your steppin’ stone.

Nasty character actors: Bruce Gordon (“The Untouchables”), Bill McKinney (“Deliverance” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”), Charles Napier (“The Blues Brothers” and “Rambo: First Blood Part II”).

“North Dallas Forty” on and off screen: Peter Gent (he wrote the book), G.D. Spradlin (he played the coach), Al Davis (just win, baby).

Not a good year for character actors: William Campbell (“Star Trek”), Edson Stroll (“McHale’s Navy”), Barbara Stuart (“Bachelor Party” and “Gomer Pyle USMC”).

Notorious women, if only for these roles: Anne Francis (“Honey West”), Jane Russell (“The Outlaw”), Maria Schneider (“Last Tango In Paris”).

Remarkable women: Judy Lewis (an actress, writer and therapist whose parents’ identities — the unmarried Clark Gable and Loretta Young — were long a Hollywood secret), Barbara Orbison (a teenaged German fan who became Roy Orbison’s wife, then his manager, then the tireless guardian of his legacy), Betty Skelton (a record-setting race pilot and race driver).

Seen, heard and read in Milwaukee: John McCullough (TV news anchor), Larry “The Legend” Johnson (DJ and talk-show host), Tim Cuprisin (reporter, media columnist and my friend).

Sitcom savants: Sam Denoff (“The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “That Girl”), Madelyn Pugh Davis (“I Love Lucy”), Sherwood Schwartz (“Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch”).

Still champions: Lorenzo Charles (North Carolina State and that dunk), Joe Frazier (heavyweight boxer), Jack LaLanne (fitness guru).

They had soul: Nick Ashford, Howard Tate, Amy Winehouse.

They shaped the songs: Jerry Leiber, Wardell Quezergue, Jerry Ragovoy.

They were country: Marshall Grant (Johnny Cash’s bass player, then his road manager), Ralph Mooney (steel guitarist helped create the Bakersfield sound in the late ’50s), Ferlin Husky (Bakersfield singer who helped create the Nashville sound at the same time).

Finally, we come to Gerry Rafferty, who defies being categorized in death as he did in life.

Yeah, but now it’s a dream, it’s a memory
But I’ll never forget what you gave to me

“The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin’),” Gerry Rafferty, from “Snakes and Ladders,” 1980. It’s out of print.

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A Christmas wish

In addition to peace on Earth, of course.

Some folks wanted to hear this.

“Christmas In The City Of The Angels,” Johnny Mathis, 1979, Columbia 7-inch 1-11158.

I came across this song about 25 years ago. It was part of a Christmas show I taped off the radio. It was released as Columbia 1-11158, with “The Very First Christmas Day” as the flip side. It’s out of print. I can’t find it available anywhere. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums since the early ’60s, this cut apparently never made it to an album.

Have a great Christmas, everyone!

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You just never know

On this Christmas Eve, a post from last Christmas Eve.

On a winter day 40 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971,  from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985.

It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay for around $10.

(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just Satchmo’s warm, gravelly voice and Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo died the following July.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

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The missing Christmas hits

Fascinating to read in the Milwaukee paper the other day that no Christmas song has been a hit since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.

My pal JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ also took note of that story, which prompted him to ponder the state of Christmas radio then and now.

All that said, there certainly are some Christmas songs that should have hit the charts in the last 17 years. Here are some of them.

“Who Needs Mistletoe,” Julie Roberts, from “Who Needs Mistletoe,” 2011. A country song every bit as filthy as Clarence Carter’s great “Back Door Santa.”

“Oi To The World,” Severe, from the wonderful Punk Rock Advent Calendar, 2009. Well, it’s reverent as far as UK punks go.

“We Three Kings,” Blondie, a 2009 holiday release. Always fun to find Debbie Harry under the tree. Always fun to hear Blondie’s classic sound.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Blistering vocals and blistering blues guitar. Move over, fellas.

“Silent Night,” the Blackhearts and special guests, from “A Blackheart Christmas,” 2008. Some sound bites from that year’s presidential race make it a bit of a time capsule. It once had a bit of a valedictory feel. Now it has the feel of opportunities lost.

“Silent Night,” Bootsy Collins, from “Christmas Is 4 Ever,” 2006. A sweet mashup of reverent narration, funk, R&B and gospel.

“Winter (Basse Dance),” Blackmore’s Night, from “Winter Carols,” 2006. It’s out of print but is available digitally. If you can get past that Ritchie Blackmore is no longer rocking out as he did in Deep Purple and Rainbow and not cede all the elegant guitar work to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you might dig this instrumental.

“Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming),” Melanie Thornton, from “Memories,” 2003. It’s an import that has gone out of print. This tune was used in a Coca-Cola ad after the R&B singer’s death 10 years ago, but its back story transcends marketing.

“It’s Christmas And I Miss You,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. It’s out of print but is available digitally. A gentle ballad reflecting the loneliness the season can bring. It’s co-written by guitarist Don Barnes and our friend Jim Peterik.

“Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. In which the Little Drummer Boy takes a psychedelic trip.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train),” the Tractors, from “Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas,” 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally. This fine bit of country swing actually was a modest hit on country radio in in 1995 and again in 1998. After all, it’s just their 1994 hit “Baby Likes To Rock It” retooled with new lyrics for Christmas.

“Soul Christmas,” Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx, from “Christmas Cracker,” 1994. If there were any justice, this scorcher would have been the hit from 17 years ago.

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Intimate Christmas music for lovers

Or is this Christmas music for young lovers?

The album jacket and the record label can’t agree, but it probably doesn’t make much difference.

This is a record that comes all the way from 1956. I’m not sure which is more remarkable — that I paid just $1 for it this spring, or that after 55 years, its vinyl grooves are still crisp and clean.

My copy is “a special D.J. album of ‘Merry Christmas Baby!'” from the Starday-King Radio Station Service. It is marked “not for resale,” but I trust the statute of limitations expired long ago.

Hollywood Records was an R&B label founded in Los Angeles by Don Pierce in October 1953.

A year later, it bought the masters of several R&B Christmas songs from the bankrupt Swing Time Records, some of which Swing Time had bought from the defunct Exclusive Records. The latter included “Merry Christmas Baby” (widely credited to Charles Brown but more likely done by Johnny Moore’s Blazers with Brown singing lead) and Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” two of the biggest hits in the genre in the late ’40s.

In early 1955, Hollywood bought more Swing Time masters, including songs by Lowell Fulson (“Lonesome Christmas, Parts 1 and 2″), Lloyd Glenn (“Sleighride”). and Jimmy Witherspoon (“How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around,” renamed “Christmas Blues” here).

All those now-familiar hits make up half of this compilation LP.

In late 1955, Hollywood released Christmas 45s by Johnny Moore’s Blazers (for whom Brown had starred until leaving the group in 1948) and the Jackson Trio (also known as the Ebonaires). Both sides of those singles are here, too. Add two more by Johnny Moore’s Blazers and you have the LP.

None of the six Hollywood releases did as well as the six songs bought from Swing Time. Truth be told, Hollywood had trouble selling much of anything, at any time of the year, and went out of business in 1959.

Having unraveled all that, it’s clear that the latter-day Hollywood releases were being pitched as that intimate Christmas music for lovers … or as Christmas music for young lovers. The cuts from those older masters (which got top billing on the album cover) were a little more gritty.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” credited as Charles Brown but more likely Johnny Moore’s Blazers with Brown singing lead, 1947.

“Christmas Eve Baby,” Johnny Moore’s Blazers, 1955. A shameless remake of “Merry Christmas Baby” with Frankie Irvin singing lead.

“Love For Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Hop,” Jackson Trio, 1955. This group remains a mystery.

All from “Merry Christmas Baby,” 1956. It’s long out of print.

Also worth noting: DJs must have been exasperated with Hollywood Records once they took a closer look at this Christmas release. The order of the songs on the big promo sticker on the front of the LP doesn’t match the order on the record.

Much of the time line in this post is drawn from J.C. Marion’s fine and rather detailed study of the Swing Time and Hollywood labels.

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